Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post reports that the IRS says the federal exchange website has made 330,000 separate “calculations” since its launch on October 1 — meaning that 330,000 individuals have registered for accounts, had some of their information gathered from the IRS and other agencies to confirm their identities and income levels, and been informed what health-insurance plans they’re eligible to buy, after tax credits are accounted for. Presumably the Obama administration released this number because it thinks indicates solid progress — but does it? This means that 330,000 people have made a good portion of the website work for them, and that the exchange website can communicate with the “federal data hub” (that is, before the federal data hub crashed Sunday night).
But it doesn’t mean people have actually and purchased the plans, and it doesn’t mean that their information has been successfully provided to the insurers so they can be enrolled. Obviously the former stage involves people deciding whether they actually want and can afford the insurance they’re offered, and the latter has had huge technical problems — so this is a long way from 330,000 successful enrollees, which itself doesn’t seem like an impressive number. Further, while the federal government has been mum, a number of states relying on the federal data hub that provides data for these calculations says they’ve been getting the wrong information: Kliff notes that Washington State said on Friday they got 8,000 inaccurate calculations from the federal hub because the state and the federal government were using different definitions of income, though they’re straightening it out now. The contractor that runs the federal data hub, QSSI, is now the general contractor tasked with fixing the entire Healthcare.gov system, and maybe they’ll do a great job – but for now, if this is the best evidence the Obama administration has to offer on the success of the exchanges, they’ve got a long way to go.
This number doesn’t include the people whose income levels are low enough that they were redirected to register for Medicaid; it’s not clear how many of those there are, although people have run into plenty of problems when sent in that direction, too, and most state Medicaid agencies can’t accept applications via the federal exchange yet. Incidentally, one of the reasons that isn’t done yet is that states, even if they’re not expanding the Medicaid program, still have to adjust their definitions of income and Medicaid eligibility, similar to the mismatch problem Washington State already had when trying to submit applications to the federal data hub for private-insurance subsidies.